Product Review (October 2007)
Pinnacle - PCTV HD Stick

Have you ever wished you could watch live television on your laptop? Better yet, how about cutting edge high definition television? Well it is not only possible, but also affordable with Pinnacle Systems' new PCTV HD Stick ($79.99). The PCTV HD system includes the USB 2.0 tuner stick, antenna with magnetic mount, software with an integrated Personal Video Recorder (PVR) and Electronic Programming Guide (EPG). Best of all, the over-the-air content is completely free of charge. Most consumers are dazzled by the video quality offered with over-the-air high definition programming and with all the major broadcasters on board, there is no reason not to take advantage of it. Pinnacle's PCTV HD Stick is fully compatible with Windows Vista™ and XP Media Center Edition.

Our tests were run on a Sony Vaio VGN-N130G (Core Duo T2050 1.60GHz 1GB 80GB). We installed the Pinnacle TVCenter 4 software (Version 4.80.1445) and also Studio QuickStart version 10.5, which facilitates the creation of media targeting devices such as the iPod or PSP. Studio QuickStart appears to be a scaled back version of the famous Pinnacle Studio editing software.

The Stick
There was a time when technology could barely fit 256MB of memory into a USB stick and now Pinnacle has a complete ATSC and NTSC tuner built into a single device. This allows for both digital and analog TV reception from a single device. Since the USB stick is rather wide, a short 1-foot extension cable is provided to prevent the stick from blocking adjacent USB outlets on the laptop. When the hardware is mated with the Pinnacle TVCenter 4 software, the system offers full PVR functionality with the ability to pause, TimeShift and even automatically record all of your favorite shows in high definition or standard definition without any service fees. Simply attach the included mini antenna and start watching free over-the-air programming.

Setup
Once the TV Center 4 software is installed, the Setup Wizard helps the user scan for local channels. Here in Los Angeles, a total of 30 digital television stations were detected using the portable antenna included with the system. There were also 32 internet radio stations found during the scanning process. While the portable antenna works reasonably well in most cases, there is a significant improvement in signal quality when using a rooftop antenna. When we ran the same channel scanning with our huge rooftop antenna we detected 52 digital channels (20 more). We also found that our reception was significantly better using the larger antenna, but the point of this review is to see how well the system works as a portable system. Sitting outside where signal reception is improved worked quite well with the portable antenna. We also had good results near windows. Reception dropped significantly in buildings where the signal weakened.

Programming Guides
Users can set up folders in the My Favorite TV Channels list that allows valid channels to be placed inside. The Channel List in the TV mode will have the custom folder available when channel surfing. This allows users to group channels based on preference. The channel details are displayed in the lower right corner along with signal strength and signal quality. Users can also load or save channel lists that have been created from previous sessions. A preview window displays the active channel and the details can be edited by the user.

TV Center Settings
The TVC software included with the PCTV Stick is quite powerful and has a variety of settings that the user can define. Skip back and forward time can be defined as well as digital audio output. Video capture setting and audio/video quality can be also be adjusted. The TV and Radio stations can be updated through these menus. Video display settings (brightness, contrast, sharpness, hue, and color saturation) are available as well. The basic electronics programming guide provides up to 3 days of information.

Real-time HDTV
Once the channels have been determined, it is easy to select any of the predefined stations. Saving programs is simple and can be set up using the electronic programming guide. We saved several programs as part of our testing and they played back well in most cases. The best results were when we played the video using Windows Media Player. We did find that the Pinnacle TVC software is not the best way to watch saved content for many reasons. Occasionally we would encounter a lip sync issue, but stopping the video and restarting it seems to fix the problem. This may have been due to our slow laptop. We recommend stopping all unnecessary background tasks to allow the processor to focus on decoding the video stream. Programs can be recorded directly to DVD or the hard drive.

Studio 10 QuickStart
For those who have not had the pleasure of using Pinnacle's Studio for editing video content, the Studio 10 QuickStart which is included with the PCTV HD Stick will provide a taste of its capabilities. Creating powerful multimedia content is easy using this software which includes the ability to target portable media players or standard DVD player. Video can be captured, edited, and then transferred to the target device and format. Menus and a variety of transitions are available. We were not able to edit high definition content using our laptop due to limited video memory according to the message we received from the software. However, standard definition content worked just fine.

Conclusion
The PCTV HD Stick ($79.99) is a great product at an exceptional price. This is only one of three PCTV HD products being offered by Pinnacle. For those looking for more, Pinnacle also offers the PCTV HD Pro Stick ($99.99) which includes a remote and A/V adapter for analog video capture. Finally, the PCTV HD Ultimate Stick ($129.99) is a higher-end option that includes an ultra-portable USB 2.0 tuner for HD and SD TV reception and includes a mini remote control and telescopic antenna. This latter version includes an onboard flash memory PVR that does not require software installation. Whatever version you decide to get, you will have a powerful new capability for that mobile machine.

- Kevin Nakano




OneCall: Your Home Theater, Digital Camera, and HDTV Experts



Review System

Laptop: Sony Vaio VGN-N130G (Core Duo T2050 1.60GHz 1GB 80GB)
Rooftop Antenna: Terk TV-38 Terrestrial VHF/UHF/FM Outdoor Antenna


Review - At a Glance


Pinnacle Systems - PCTV HD Stick USB 2.0 HD/SD Receiver


Features

  • Instantly turn your PC into a personal digital video recorder
  • Fully compatible with Windows Vista™ and XP Media Center Edition
  • Ultra-portable USB 2.0 TV tuner
  • Watch SD and free HD TV* on your PC - no service fees
  • Instantly transform your PC into a personal digital video recorder (PVR)
  • Mini antenna included (for digital TV reception in good signal areas; rooftop aerial is recommended for optimum reception)
  • Supports both analog (NTSC) and digital (ATSC) TV signals*

* ATSC, the new digital broadcast standard, is now available in many areas of the United States. ATSC reception is dependent on many factors. The provided antenna will allow reception in areas where there is a good ATSC signal. In regions or rooms where the signal is not strong, an amplified rooftop antenna will be required. It is generally not possible to receive an ATSC signal while en route (e.g. in a car or train). Please consult with your local reseller or go to www.antennaweb.org for more information on areas covered and optimizing your reception.


Company Information
Pinnacle Systems
A division of Avid Technology, Inc.
280 North Bernardo Avenue
Mountain View, California 94043

Phone: 650-526-1600
Fax: 650-526-1601

Website: http://www.pinnaclesys.com

Source: Manufacture Supplied
MSRP: $79.99


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